KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The interests of Malaysia and Malaysians should take precedence over the narrow commercial interests of telecommunication companies (telcos) in the matter of implementing 5G, Finance Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz reportedly said.

In an interview with Singapore's The Straits Times, he cited the various advantages 5G could bring the country: boosting the Malaysian economy by RM65 billion, creating 750,000 high-value jobs, and high-quality communication services at cheaper prices.

"The larger issue is Malaysians' and businesses' access to 5G technology. If telcos, particularly the larger ones, continue to delay providing 5G services to their customers, as recently mentioned by the Minister of Communications and Multimedia, his Ministry will consider other options such as issuing new licences to new players to enable the speedy delivery of 5G services in the country.

"Indeed, the interests of Malaysia and its people must take precedence over the telcos' narrow commercial interests," he reportedly said.

He also said that domestic and foreign investors have expressed their interest to take up any shares that are not snapped up, but Malaysian telcos would be prioritised over any foreign interest.

Tengku Zafrul said that Putrajaya believes this project will benefit the telcos in long term as no heavy capital expenditure investments will be required, but instead will be shouldered by DNB.

Putrajaya is also willing to consider fiscal incentives to assist the telcos' transition to 5G and mitigate any short-term commercial consequences of providing 5G services to their customers," he said, pointing out that this will benefit the telcos in the medium to long term.

The deadline for telcos to take up shares in 5G roll-out provider Digital Nasional Berhad (DNB) will remain on June 30, but he said an extension will be given until early July and "no later than that” if necessary.

In addition, he said telcos can take up larger shares than the initial 7.78 per cent offered to them, but no investors will be allowed to own more than 20 per cent each.

Tengku Zafrul insisted that his ministry will hold no more than 30 per cent of the stake in DNB, but may take up any remaining shares if only a few telcos decide to take up the remaining shares.

"The offer of equity in DNB was made to allow telcos to participate in the roll-out of the 5G network and infrastructure, subject to DNB remaining an independent and neutral network provider.

"After researching various models that have been implemented in different countries, we believe that it is critical for DNB to provide non-discriminatory, equitable access to all licensees seeking access to the 5G network," he reportedly said.

As of May 4, only two telcos have signed a service agreement with DNB: Telekom Malaysia Bhd and YTL Communications Sdn Bhd.

DNB was established in early March 2021 to accelerate deployment of 5G infrastructure and network in Malaysia. It will offer 5G as a wholesale network service to other telcos.